Recognizing and Tackling Zoom Fatigue
Over the course of the pandemic, Zoom became the Kleenex of video conferencing platforms, Zoom fatigue followed close behind. Zoom was founded in 2011 by Eric Yuan. When the company went public, valued at $9.2 billion, Yuan met with investors less than ten times-conducting most of his business meetings using the platform itself.
Zoom, like other platforms that are more on the social media spectrum (think Instagram, Facebook, Twitter) allows us to seamlessly connect with anyone in the world. From regular business meetings, to bonding activities like happy hours, personal workout classes and friends or family catch ups, Zoom has become the go to platform. According to one study, Zoom’s meeting participants increased in 2020 by 2900 percent! And as of December 2020, they have had about 470,000 business customers.
As the platform increased in popularity, so did a number of unforeseen consequences. On one hand, Zoom has worked as an equalizer. Literally inviting coworkers into homes means that there’s no hiding human signs of life such as children, pets, small living spaces, or unplanned interruptions. Many managers have found themselves operating on a level of newfound transparency with their direct reports. Similarly, the convenience of a tool like Zoom has resulted in an increase of remote or virtual first workplaces that have allowed companies to attract and hire talent from across the globe.
On the other hand, “Zoom fatigue” has become a very real, negative, phenomenon as hours spent online over the past year skyrocketed for the majority of corporate employees. Generally, the signs of Zoom fatigue are similar to overall burnout: having a pit in your stomach, dreading Zoom meetings, feeling unmotivated, constantly scheduling Zoom meetings and not factoring in lunch or a bio break, and having an increased probability of becoming easily irritated by your team.
Why does Zoom fatigue happen?
The noncommittal nature of video conferencing allows folks to become more easily distracted. With the options to mute your audio, lower the volume of a coworker, switch screens, access social media, even watch your favorite show on Netflix while presenting a seemingly attentive front, active engagement has become trickier and needs to be intentional.
Furthermore, interacting solely on Zoom leaves less room for the casual interactions, small talk and physical breaks that in person work provides. Imagine for a moment a day in the office that mimics a typical day on Zoom. You wake up, put minimal effort into your appearance and dress, go to your office and then have 7 back to back meetings with minimal small talk, face to face, two feet away from your coworkers, sneaking down a few bites between or even during a meeting. You then have dinner, go for a walk and head to bed in the conference room, only to wake up and do it all over again. Granted, a real life HR department would probably not allow you to live in your company’s conference room, but this is the environment that work from home fosters- minimal separation from your work space.
The effort that it takes to actively engage and maintain focus, when coupled with constant Zoom meetings, minimal small talk, increased work hours, tech posture, eye strain and less separation from your work space and notifications means burnout.
Interestingly enough, Zoom burnout presents a more nuanced impact on female workers than on their male counterparts. Women are held to different standards as men in terms of appearance so viewing yourself on Zoom for six hours of meetings a day is draining. As Will Feng, Director of Performance and Engagement at FabFitFun says, “it’s not normal to see your face on screen for hours of the day”. The Lily recently published an article about the stories of six women and the impact that regular video conferencing had on their perceptions of their own appearances, introducing readers to a slew of new vocabulary including “Zoom dysmorphia” and “Zoom boom”.
What can you do, right away, to manage your Zoom fatigue?
- Test out having video off for internal meetings and offer the flexibility to take meetings while walking. Dan Spaulding, Chief People Officer at Zillow switches some internal meetings to good old fashion phone calls which significantly reduces his screen time throughout the day.
- During calls, get specific and ask questions to your direct reports around how they’re really doing. Small talk, and learning about your employee’s lives outside of work is a valuable way to feel closer to remote employees. In a recent AllVoices webinar, Cara Brennan Allamano, SVP, People, Places and Learning at Udemy, shares a specific framework that her team uses to ask simple questions around eating and sleeping.
- Designate a meeting free day, or, schedule a day where you can take care of the majority of meetings for the week. Employees oftentimes have trouble focusing before or after meetings and drawing them out across the week can lead to less productive work being accomplished.
- Don’t schedule meetings, no matter how quick they are, for work or conversation that can be had via a text based messaging platform like Slack. Giving employees the flexibility to respond to non-urgent messages when they are available to do so can increase productivity.
- For meetings where video is required, try using the “hide-self view” button so you’re not staring at yourself too long.
- Make it easy for yourself to stay focused. The next time you’re on a video chat, close any open tabs, mute your notifications and put your phone away.
- Schedule in your breaks! Schedule your lunch break and an additional break into your work calendar. This will ensure that your meetings aren’t going back to back and that you have a few moments to step away from your computer.
Zoom is here to stay whether you’re working in a remote first, hybrid, or fully back in the office approach. Growing with this new world of work means identifying and sharing tangible ways to feel closer to our coworkers, optimize time spent at the desk, distancing yourself from work outside of work hours, and avoiding Zoom fatigue.